The Tragic Story Of The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

On June 12, 1977, Forensic Tales writes that 140 girls, including Denise Milner, Michelle Guse, and Lori Farmer, arrived at Camp Scott for a two-week stay. The Criminal Discourse Podcast reports that the camp site is located near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, about 50 miles away from Tulsa. The three girls were between the ages of 8 and 10. Although they did not know each other beforehand, they were all assigned to tent #8 in Camp Kiowa. This tent in particular was the farthest from camp counselors (via The Icebox).

As there was a thunderstorm that night, the girls spent the evening writing letters to their parents before going off to bed (per The Mystery Box). No one could have known the horror that was to come. In the dead of night, several counselors reported hearing moans throughout the campgrounds. When one of them got up to investigate, the noises stopped and she went back to bed. The next morning, counselor Carla Willhite got up bright and early and encountered an unspeakable scene.

According to Ranker, she found the lifeless bodies of Milner, Guse, and Farmer. All That's Interesting reveals that the three Girl Scouts had been sexually assaulted. While Guse and Farmer were bludgeoned to death, Milner was strangled. The tent was covered in blood and the girls' bodies had been stuffed in their sleeping bags and left outside in the woods. Police were immediately called to the crime scene, where they uncovered even more disturbing details.

Camp counselors were warned about the murders before they occurred

The Icebox reports that rope, a crowbar, duct tape, and a flashlight with a partial fingerprint were found near the girl's bodies. In addition, police were able to take DNA samples from the scene (via Forensic Tales). When investigators spoke to camp counselors, they were informed that only two months before the triple-homicide, a distressing event had occurred. Ranker writes that during training, one counselor's tent had been rifled through and a note had been left. It stated, "We are on a mission to kill three girls in tent one." This was thought to be a cruel joke and it was disregarded.

As for the three girls, The Mystery Box explains that Guse and Farmer had been more than excited to attend the camp. Milner, however, was having second thoughts and high levels of anxiety about leaving home. She decided against going but ultimately, her mother convinced her to attend. With all the physical evidence and claims of strange noises throughout the night, many believed the murders would be solved without a hitch, but this was not the case.

Investigators, however, did have a suspect in mind: Gene Leroy Hart. Per All That's Interesting, police dogs found a cave near the campsite that had items belonging to both the camp and to Hart. Moreover, someone had written, "The killer was here. Bye bye fools. 77-6-17" on another cave nearby. Only four years earlier, the convict had broken out of prison and had been on the run ever since.

The manhunt for Gene Leroy Hart

According to The Icebox, Hart was a Cherokee man who had kidnapped and assaulted two pregnant women. He was convicted of these crimes and sent to jail. However, Hart had escaped in 1973 (via Ranker). The Mystery Box writes that he possibly hid in the cave because it was near his childhood home. In addition, it's believed that members of the local community was sheltering the fugitive. After being at large for years, Hart was finally found on April 6, 1978. He was subsequently charged with the murders of Milner, Guse, and Farmer, per All That's Interesting. The evidence against Hart was compelling.

Forensic Tales reports that his previous victims had noted that he had used nylon rape and duct tape on them. Both of those things were found near the girl's bodies. Some of the duct tape had hair that did not belong to the victims. Furthermore, they stated that Hart had made strange noises. Their descriptions matched what the counselors had heard the night of the murder.

Strange Outdoors explains that several pairs of glasses had gone missing from the campsite and one of them was later found in the cave. However, those around Hart believed him to be innocent of the murders. They believed that he was a scapegoat and that the investigators' actions were racially motivated.

Gene Leroy Hart was acquitted

Hart's trial began on March 19, 1979 (via The Mystery Box). The local Cherokee Nation fully supported him and provided him funds for his defense. All That's Interesting reports that the prosecution brought up the glasses, the duct tape, and other items discovered at the cave as evidence of his guilt. Per Forensic Tales, they also presented biological evidence, including the hair found on the duct tape and semen found on the girl's bodies. Despite this, Hart's defense team fought back furiously. They stated that the evidence had been planted and that the DNA was confounded.

According to Strange Outdoors, the defense claimed that a footprint found near the crime scene was too small to be Hart's and that a fingerprint on a flashlight was not his. Furthermore, they stated that the hair on the duct tape could not be proven to be his. As this was the late '70s, the DNA could not be tested and thus, the defense said that the semen did not belong to him. In the end, Hart was found not guilty of the Girl Scout murders. He did, however, return to prison to serve his time for his previous crimes. Hart died on June 4, 1979, in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary from a heart attack.

DNA testing has been fruitless

Despite Hart's acquittal, many, including investigators, feel that he got away with murder (via Strange Outdoors). Ultimately, it seems that the jury was swayed by the defense in believing that he had been racially profiled. Although he had been found guilty of other violent crimes, his funeral was later attended by thousands (per The Icebox).Ranker reports that Camp Scott, which had opened in 1928, closed down a day after the deaths of Milner, Guse, and Farmer. In 1989, the DNA from the case was tested and found that three of the five probes matched Hart's.

While this could not fully prove he was the killer, it couldn't rule him out, either. Forensic Tales writes that the DNA was tested in 2008 but the results were undetermined due to the state of the DNA. Per News on 6, partial female DNA was found during this testing, but it was inconclusive; they could not figure out who it belonged to. The Mystery Box explains that other names have been thrown around throughout the years and it's also been theorized that Hart had an accomplice. The case, however, remains open and unsolved as of 2022 (via KJRH).

The parents of the murdered girls became victims rights advocates

After the murders of Milner, Guse, and Farmer, The Icebox writes that their parents did the best they could to find a silver lining in the chaos. Farmer's family founded the Oklahoma chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. Guse's father became a victims rights advocate. In recent years, Farmer's mother, Sheri Farmer, has been vocal about finding justice for her daughter (via News on 6). In 2018, she helped pass Marsy's Law, which gives access to a variety of resources to crime victims in Oklahoma. Sheri stated that she helped implement this law due to the traumatizing nature of the murder trial.

Previously, Sheri and Bettye Milner, Denise's mother, have compared their experience to the O.J. Simpson murder trial (via The Ice Box). In 2017, Sheri revealed to KJRH that she had been notified of her daughter's death through a phone call, but no other details were given. She later learned through the news that Farmer had been murdered and assaulted. It's now been nearly 45 years since the girls' murders but Sheri has noted that she will not stop fighting. She went on to say that "We wonder what she would be like, who she'd be married to, what she'd be doing."